DUBAI • Gunmen opened fire on a military parade in south-western Iran yesterday, killing at least 29 people - almost half of them members of the country's Revolutionary Guards - in one of the worst attacks on the elite force.
State television said the assault, which also wounded more than 60, targeted a stand where Iranian officials had gathered in the city of Ahvaz to watch an annual event marking the start of the Islamic Republic's 1980-88 war with Iraq.
Videos and photographs posted online reportedly showed the attack and its aftermath - civilians and soldiers dropping to the pavement, shouting and running for cover as gunfire crackles in the background, and later carrying away wounded and bleeding survivors, including children.
Another image distributed to Iranian media showed soldiers crawling to escape gunfire. One picked up a gun and scrambled to his feet as women and children fled for their lives.
An Iranian ethnic Arab opposition movement called the Ahvaz National Resistance, which seeks a separate state in oil-rich Khuzestan province, claimed responsibility for the attack. Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants also claimed responsibility. However, neither group provided evidence.
State television blamed "takfiri elements", a reference to Sunni Muslim militants, for the attack.
Brigadier-General Abolfazl Shekarchi, a senior military spokesman, said the attackers had hidden weapons in an area near the parade route several days in advance.
"All four terrorists were quickly neutralised by security forces," Brig-Gen Shekarchi told state television. "A four-year-old girl and a wheelchair-bound war veteran were among the dead.
"They are not from Daesh (ISIS) or other groups fighting (Iran's) Islamic system... but they are linked to America and (Israel's intelligence agency) Mossad," he told state news agency Irna.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered security forces to identify those responsible for the violence, the semi-official Isna news agency said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter that "terrorists recruited, trained, armed & paid by a foreign regime" were responsible, and that "Iran holds regional terror sponsors and their US masters accountable".
Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the attack was linked to US "allies in the region" and also ordered security forces to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Attacks on the military are rare in Iran, which has been relatively stable compared with neighbouring Arab countries that have grappled with upheaval since the 2011 uprisings across the Middle East.
The attack in Ahvaz came as Mr Rouhani was among the dignitaries at the main anniversary parade in Teheran. In a keynote speech, Mr Rouhani vowed to boost Iran's ballistic missile capabilities despite concerns that were cited by his US counterpart Donald Trump in May when he abandoned a landmark nuclear deal with Teheran.
"We will never decrease our defensive capabilities... we will increase them day by day," Mr Rouhani said at the military parade.
"The fact that the missiles anger you shows they are our most effective weapons," he said, referring to the United States.
Mr Rouhani heads to New York today to address the annual United Nations General Assembly.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the attack, offering condolences to Mr Rouhani and calling for deeper anti-terror cooperation.
"Please accept the deepest condolences regarding the tragic consequences of the raid by terrorists in Ahvaz. We are appalled by this bloody crime," Mr Putin wrote to Mr Rouhani.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES